Ocala to unveil monument in memory of 1883 fire that destroyed downtown

City has one of the oldest fire departments in Florida

By Clay LePard - Reporter

OCALA, Fla. - Later this year, Ocala Fire Rescue is set to unveil a monument downtown, showcasing the city's fire bell that was used from 1889 through 1968. 

Ocala Fire Rescue Chief Shane Alexander has been working with local historians and the city's parks department on the monument. The fire bell was originally placed in a standalone tower and was used to alert volunteer firefighters. 

"City limits was only 10 blocks or one mile, so when they were able to be aware of a fire and call in volunteers, they would ring the bell," Alexander said.

Ocala, which has one of the oldest fire rescue departments in the state of Florida, first formed in 1885 after a fire spread through much of downtown on Thanksgiving in 1883. 

"It destroyed downtown Ocala," Alexander said. "At the time, Ocala only had a bucket brigade, so people would show up with buckets moving water." 

All of the buildings east of today's SE 1st Avenue from Silver Springs Boulevard to Ft. King Street were destroyed because of the fire. In total, 10 stores burned down and several blocks of the business district were left in ashes or only with blackened chimneys. 

After the fire, fire bonds were sold to collect funds for a fire department. 

Bricks were used for the construction of buildings thereafter, which prompted Ocala to be called "Brick City."

The city's first fire station is now home to a parking garage. The monument will be placed in the median next to the parking garage along SE Broadway Street. The bell, which weighs 1,615 pounds was moved in 1968 to a church in Dunnellon after a new fire station was built. 

"We have a project where we are relocating it to its original location from the 1800s where our city parking garage is," Alexander added. 

The bell also rang to announce the end of World War I, the Spanish American War and World War II. 

"There's some history that they rang it so much, it cracked the bell," Alexander said. "They had to re-purpose it after that timeframe."

While researching for Ocala Fire Rescue's 125th celebration, Assistant Fire Chief Brian Stoothoff discovered the bell was still at the church in Dunnellon, which prompted plans  to get it back.  

Organizers hope to have the monument up before the end of spring. 

"It could be as early as February, but no later than April," Alexander said.  

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